Water Issues

Water Quality

Water is synonymous with the Shuswap, as everyone uses and relies on the lake water for recreation, agriculture, homes and gardens and drinking water. Unfortunately, as the population increases, so do the impacts from sewage effluent disposal, agriculture, industry and forestry and consequently water quality is deteriorating.

Government sponsored Shuswap Lake water quality studies so far indicate that while deep water remains pristine, the water quality in Salmon Arm Bay and in Blind Bay has been deteriorating. Water quality monitoring efforts are continuing through the efforts of the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District and the Ministry of Environment. Local stewardship groups are also doing water quality studies.

On June 20, 2008 a chrysophyte algae bloom began in Salmon Arm Bay and eventually made it to Copper Island and lasted for about four days. It was golden in colour and was thick and stinky. The bloom was caused by too many nutrients from a number of likely sources, including: agricultural practices, Salmon Arm sewage effluent, antiquated septic systems along the lakeshore, houseboat grey water, and storm sewers. This was not the first bloom as other smaller ones were reported over the previous two years and it was a serious sign of lake water quality deterioration.

In 2005, SEAS worked with a number of other organizations to advocate for a ban on private sewage system outfalls into the lake, which resulted in a two-year moratorium and in 2009 the ban was made into a permanent prohibition by the B.C. government. Despite the ban, there are five developments that have approved lake outfall sewage treatment systems and two are now operating in Scotch Creek and one in Lee Creek. These systems have encountered frequent malfunctions. Pollution from one of the systems in Scotch Creek has contributed to the continuation of a boil water advisory for the Saratoga water users.

Liquid waste management planning is in process for both the North and South Shuswap. Hopefully, these CSRD projects will result in the eventual construction of public sewage treatment plants that use a land discharge instead of the lake for disposal of the effluent.

See the following document ‘SLIPP water quality monitoring plan [PDF]’

Mara Lake Algae Bloom, May 2010

Critique of the MOE Q and A fact sheet on the May, 2010 Mara Lake Algae Bloom

The Q and A fact sheet is typical of the kind of information government puts out, as it avoids the tough questions and focuses on the uncertainties. Even the answer to the key question, ‘Are these blooms a sign of lake deterioration?’ is non-committal ‘ ‘not necessarily.’ Certainly other documents do point to the concern that these blooms are indeed a sign of deterioration, especially the SLIPP documents and especially the proposed water quality monitoring plan PP presentation by Ken Ashley.

As well, instead of focusing on the role that excess nutrients has in blooms of this size, you bring up the complex nature and the possibility that something else other than excess nutrients is to blame. Perhaps, but I would think for blooms of this size, the amount of excess nutrients is the key factor. Certainly smaller blooms, like the ones you cannot see, could likely occur for various reasons. But certainly massive blooms must need massive amounts of nutrients to grow that large.

Other problems with the fact sheet include the confusion regarding water temperatures. In 2008, you explained (see below) this type of bloom requires cold water (and it was cold that June) and now the concern has morphed to climate change and warming waters as a causal factor. Is this a change or does it require both cold water and warm water?

Another problem with the fact sheet is that it does not mention the history of the lake that prior to 2008 there has been no recorded instances of blooms. Certainly this uniqueness should be significant and point to some changes that have very likely occurred.

And I was surprised that although there is perceived uncertainty to the cause of the bloom and whether it is an indicator of deterioration, the fact sheet says unequivocally that there is a probable chance that the bloom will progress into Shuswap Lake.

Another problem is that there is no reference to existing studies, such as the ones Ken Ashley refers to in his power point, that the trends show increasing levels of nutrients in most parts of the lake. And the detailed monitoring that has been done on the Salmon River that show increasing levels of nutrients. The Fraser Basin Council has consistently reported that the Salmon River water quality is declining. The text below only mentions ‘animal heads’ and the Q and A refers to manure and fertilizers but other than that there is no mention of the role that agriculture is likely having in the changes we are seeing in the lake. Yet, Ken’s power point provides the likely sources of the problems.

I would think that because your ministry has invested so much time and energy into SLIPP that it would have no problem pointing to these blooms as proof the lake is deteriorating and that we need the SLIPP plan implemented soon to prevent further deterioration. Certainly that is the stand we are taking, as advocates for SLIPP, the proposed watershed council and the need for fixing the problems impacting the watershed.

I am pleased that more monitoring is now going to happen, but I question how effective it will be because of the funding shortfall faced by your ministry (and most others). But I am concerned that you only hope that this monitoring will ‘help you determine what can be done to possibly reduce the likely re-occurrence.’ My idea of action, which you have asked about, would be to begin immediately all efforts possible to reduce the nutrient loading that is now occurring from agriculture. I saw this happening first hand last year, when I observed snow melting off a field covered in manure and heading to a creek, then to the river. By the time the RAPP team got there, the melting was over.

There seems to be quite the contrast between what is happening now with the Shuswap and the actions taken in the Okanagan over thirty years ago. A 1974 summary report described phosphorus as the major nutrient responsible for ‘undesirable algae blooms’ and recommended an action plan that including improvements to waste water management as well as the ‘complete removal of all direct polluting discharges to stream waters.’

See the Ministry of Environment Fact Sheet [PDF] on the Mara Lake Algae Bloom:

Ministry of Environment response to the SEAS critique

SLIPP funding will help us to conduct more work at any one time, thus will speed up the process somewhat. SLIPP funding would be helpful to support the new work we added now to get better and hopefully faster answers about the Mara Lake algae bloom. However, you should know that a lot of the aspects recommended in the monitoring plan by Ken Ashley at el have been and are already monitored, including a nutrient loading (and thus nutrient source) study. You also should keep in mind that even when we have the money to speed up the projects a study can only be sped up so far without losing data credibility. Factors, such as annual variability still need to be considered.

I agree that we do not need to wait for results to start nutrient management. We can start educating potential nutrient source owners about the effects of nutrients and best management practices. We are already involved in this (see below). However, my experience has shown that not all nutrient source owners do that voluntarily and that it requires scientific prove (of them being a significant source) in order to get them to buy in. Also, a source identification study that I conducted in the Peace Region has shown that we would have missed significant sources, would we not have investigated it scientifically. Finger pointing with no proof has often led to source owners to do less rather than more. Cooperative education has been more successful.

For us to force for instance farmers to reduce nutrient inputs, good solid science is needed to show that their nutrient contribution leads to a significant impact or pollution as per the definition under the Environmental Management Act.

Q&A sheet:

Regarding the answer to the questions ‘Is the algae bloom a sign of lake water quality deterioration’: The answer was started with ‘not necessarily’, not to cover anything up, but to indicate that in some cases a bloom of this algae can be a sign of water deterioration; however, in other cases it is not. The three limnology specialists (one of them published worldwide) that helped us answer questions about the bloom all reacted the same way when they found out what algae was blooming in the lake. They all were relieved and said that this is good for the fish population and not a problematic algae. However, we know that having the same type of algae bloom two times within three years indicates that a change has occurred. It is not like a blue-green algae that indicates eutrophic conditions or massive eutrophication. This algae is common in nutrient poor lakes. However, yes, you are right, this algae needs sufficient nutrients to grow to a large and dense algae bloom such as this. This is why we are looking into nutrient sources that may have entered the Lake before the bloom (likely via Shuswap River or direct discharge into the lake) right now. We also look at nutrients that are not routinely measured in BC lakes so far. We always measured inorganic dissolved and total nitrogen and phosphorus; however, these were very low in the lake before the bloom. We may have missed another main source of nutrients for this algae. The algae can uptake nutrients through the consumption of small bacteria and algae, cells and organic material (a preferred nutrient for this algae). We now have included the measurement of these factors. These factors are not usually analysed and require newer science and equipment. In partnership with UBC we are now able to have an expert look at these. The abundance of predator/grazer species for the blooming algae also needs to be considered. For instance, if we find the abundance to be very low, any factor that may have led to a significant reduction of the grazer species may have favoured the algae to proliferate more than usual. If a drastic reduction of algae predators/grazers would exist, we should know about this impact on aquatic life and causes of this should also be investigated as well. If we only look at the traditional nutrient inputs, we may miss an important factor.

You mention the blooms in Okanagan Lake in the 70s and how they knew back then that they were caused by nutrient inputs. According to Penticton staff these blooms were blue-green algae blooms, which are typical for eutrophic conditions. The small local areas in which these blooms occurred had locally much higher measurable phosphorus and nitrogen nutrient levels than the rest of the lake. These blooms were forming in areas with very little mixing, situated directly around sewage treatment plant discharges. Contrary to most arms of Shuswap Lake and Mara Lake, the elevated nutrient concentrations were measurable in these areas of Okanagan Lake. We do not have this type of evidence.

Regarding the temperature. Yes, I can see that this may have been confusing. I am awaiting a clearer explanation from the specialist today. He was gone all last week. However, the way I understand it, the algae is the first one to grow in the spring, when temperatures are still too low for most other algae. During that time, it has no competition from these other algae and enjoys optimal light conditions. However, warmer winters or the onset of the temperatures suitable for this Golden-Brown algae earlier in the year, may provide even better conditions for the Golden-Brown species and longer periods of no competition, before other algae come on line. I will provide you with more clarity on this once I received more answers from the specialist.

Ministry of Environment critique response continued….

You indicate we should have mentioned that no recorded instances of blooms prior to 2008 occured. I have mentioned in the press that I/we were not aware of a similar bloom in recent years (last decade) and that we do not have information about such a bloom in the years before. According to Peter Vander Sar’s e-mail of Saturday, May 15th, indicates that there may be anecdotal information about a smaller bloom occurring before. The line from his e-mail says: When speaking about the bloom to some folks on Friday, without much details regarding location, etc, one comment was “I fish Mara Lake all the time. There is often a bloom in the lake in the spring, at the south end near the Shuswap river mouth. It smells, though I would not say really bad, but definitely smells”

However, I would not use Peter’s information in a Q&A sheet or in the media, because we don’t know if this was a small bloom of a similar algae, or an algae at all or a bloom at all.

I am not aware that Ken Ashley had different reports or data than us. He received our data. Our data show a slight nutrient increase in Salmon Arm of Shuswap Lake over time. However, this cannot be said for the other areas of Shuswap Lake. ‘ Historic spring and fall data collected from Mara Lake show nutrient levels cycling up- and down over the years, but show no specific trend. Since 2008, we have added more frequent summer concentration measurements. They show low to medium nutrient concentrations as well.

You wonder why I don’t mention Salmon River in the Q&A. Again the Q&A was about Mara Lake and Salmon River does not flow into Mara Lake. We are very aware of nutrient conditions in Salmon River. We have been part of a study team with Agriculture Canada and take part in management through the Salmon River Round Table. This means we already work with farmers to convince them to adopt best management practices to protect not only water quality, but riparian area, and fish habitat. Our office also had meetings with dairy farmers on Shuswap River and we had a first meeting with the Lower Shuswap Stewardship Society, discussing a monitoring partnership. This River is outside of our region. However, since it drains intro Mara Lake, we have been working with the Penticton Office to cooperatively work on options for regular water quality monitoring.

Regarding your suggestion that the ministry should use these blooms as ‘proof’ that the lake is deteriorating. Again, our data do not show increased nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient levels. We hope that the added study will provide more information about water quality changes. Maybe organic nutrients have increased. You indicate that you are pleased that more monitoring is going to happen, but are concerned that the budget will prevent it. You will be glad to hear that the additional monitoring is already happening. Our staff and/or volunteers have been on the lake daily since the bloom started. Samples are also collected on a daily basis.

I hope that clarifies some of the information of the Q&A sheet.

Gabi Matscha
Section Head Environmental Quality
Ministry of Environment
Thompson Region
Ph: (250) 371-6296

The Shuswap Watershed

The 1.5 million hectare Shuswap watershed is part of the traditional territory of the Secwepemc people who have resided here for over eight thousand years. A provincial treasure, the Shuswap forms the major southeast contributor to the Fraser River watershed and provides key habitat for a significant percentage of provincial fish stocks. Home to diverse wildlife and plant species, the watershed also provides water for drinking, development and agriculture. A popular location to live, visit, recreate and earn a living, the watershed deserves the best environmentally sustainable management and greater public awareness of its many values.

On February 25, 2010, the Shuswap Watershed Project was launched with the release of a full colour, 27 x 38.5 inch poster and the announcement of “Celebrate the Shuswap Week” for April 18-24, 2010. This week of activities will include displays, tree planting, litter cleanup, storm-drain marking, talks, hikes, and two major public events. On Earth Day, April 22nd there will be an evening of visual and musical entertainment at the Salmar Classic. On the following day there will be a Watershed Conference at the Salmon Arm High School that will include presentations, displays, readings of the award winning essays and a free, all-ages dance to Old Man’s Beard. A number of contests kick off, including the “Song for the Shuswap” song writing contest and the student essay and art-poster contests. See www.shuswapwatershed.ca for more information.

Key Threats to the Watershed

– Invasive species

Non-native plant and animal species can have detrimental impacts on the ecosystem. They can compete with native species for food, shelter and habitat which may change ecosystems dynamics and can lead to the extinction of both fish and wildlife species. Some examples of non-native species include perch, bass, sunfish, and European starling.

– Resource use

Extraction of resources for agriculture, forestry, mining, and urban/rural development can impact aquatic and wildlife habitat. Clearing land results in increased sediment transport and erosion that can lower water quality and destroy fish and wildlife habitat through in-filling and burying plants, insects, and spawning areas.

– Foreshore development

Shoreline development such as retaining walls, creation of beaches, beach grooming, landscaping, removal of shoreline vegetation, the construction of docks, boat houses, and boat launches alter the natural shoreline functions and result in cumulative impacts on wildlife and aquatic species. Alterations to foreshore areas degrade the quality and quantity of habitat available to fish species for rearing, migrating and spawning activities.

– Pollution

Sewage effluent, agricultural run-off, fuel and oil spills, houseboat grey-water and storm-water run-off decreases water quality and increases the likelihood of algae blooms and aquatic weed growth. Decreased water quality may result in fish kills or raise human health issues.

Shuswap Lake Integrated Planning Process (SLIPP)

This planning process to address escalating concerns regarding water quality, foreshore development, and recreation began in 2007. After two years a plan was developed, with some components such as improved compliance, enforcement and foreshore development planning moving to the implementation phase. The vision for the plan is ‘Working together to sustain the health and prosperity of the Shuswap and Mara lakes.: The Plan has three goals:

> Development that respects the environment, as well as economic and social interests

> Water quality that supports public and environmental health

> Desirable recreational experiences that are safe and sustainable

Full implementation of the plan, including the creation of a Watershed Council requires adequate funding. Because there is no chance for the province to completely fully fund the development and work of a Council, local funding is needed, which could be achieved through a parcel tax. This form of taxation has enabled the Okanagan Water Board to function for over 40 years and thus helped clean-up Okanagan Lake.

(See the SLIPP Plan)


Within the Shuswap drainage area are significant wetlands that include swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands are a critical part of a healthy ecosystem. They absorb floodwaters, provide habitat for a vast number of animals, filter toxins and chemicals from our water systems, and hold water in reserve to supply the ecosystem through hot, dry summers. Wetlands are found on only three percent of Shuswap Lake’s shoreline.

One of the greatest threats to wetlands is from inappropriate development such as the big-box shopping centre proposed for the sensitive Salmon River floodplain west of Salmon Arm. To find out more about the efforts to halt this development, see WA:TER’s website at www.wa-ter.ca

The Shuswap Watershed Alliance

The Shuswap Watershed Alliance is a coalition of organizations committed to protecting all the values of the watershed. Currently, the Alliance includes these seven organizations:

Shuswap Water Action Team (SWAT)

Shuswap Environmental Action Society (SEAS)

Committee for a Strong Sustainable Salmon Arm (CASSSA), www.casssa.ca

Friends of Mara Lake (FOML)

Shuswap Naturalists (SN), www.shuswapnaturalists.org

Lower Shuswap Stewardship Society (LSSS)

Wetland Alliance – The Ecological Response (WA:TER), www.wa-ter.ca

Houseboat Greywater Pollution continues….

Regional District Board backs down on forcing houseboats to stop putting wastewater in lake.

Greywater discharge continues
By Barb Brouwer
Salmon Arm Observer, February 24, 2010

With only one dissenting voice, Columbia Shuswap Regional District directors agreed to water down a letter to the Ministry of Environment regarding greywater discharge into Shuswap Lake. In a motion to write a letter to MOE in January, directors made clear that ‘CSRD does not support further greywater discharge into Shuswap Lake and encourages the ministry to move forward in a timely manner…’

Directors backed off their earlier stand because of a report from Darcy Mooney, CSRD’s deputy director of Environment and Engineering Services, and a letter to Mooney from Larry Gardner, MOE environmental section head from Kamloops.

In his report, Mooney advised directors that a prohibition on the discharge of domestic sewage or waste from a boat or houseboat into any lake, pond, stream or other natural body of water has been included in Section 13 of the British Columbia Environmental Management Act for many years.

About three years ago, when public interest about lake quality grew, MOE, which had never before enforced the legislation, responded with a commitment to provide ongoing education to boaters and the public, to begin enforcement of Section 13 and undertake a study of lake water quality related to houseboat use. The 2008-09 study funded by MOE and Interior Health included water sampling at several control sites on the lake.

‘The study indicated that the presence of houseboats is correlated to the chance of detecting fecal coliforms, that greywater discharges contribute edocrine dispruptors to the lake and houseboat discharges are a consistent source of fecal bacteria,’ wrote Mooney in his report to the board. ‘The study also suggests that the risk to human health is low and that there is no clear indication for gastrointestinal disease and infection.’

In his Feb. 16 letter to Mooney, MOE’s Gardner notes ‘substantial’ improvements already made by the houseboat industry:

– A majority of vessels have been plumbed for the 2010 season to capture kitchen sink greywater.

– One company is engineering and building all new vessels capable of fully containing greywater.

– Several older boats that can’t be retrofitted are being retired over the next two seasons.

– Houseboat companies have committed to make it impossible for renters to empty hot tubs and are building infrastructure at their dock facilities to accommodate the pump out of hot tub water along with blackwater.

– The companies are phasing out onboard washing machines

– Houseboat companies have provided an in-depth analysis of their fleets’ carrying capacity and the challenges of retrofitting vessels to carry a full load of greywater.

– The companies have investigated onboard greywater treatment technology. Based on study results, combined with the ‘ongoing commitment’ by the houseboat industry, Gardner advised Mooney that MOE will not insist on complete elimination of greywater discharge in 2010, but will continue to work with the industry and launch a public education campaign.

‘The ministry’s long-term goal for the appropriate management of boat discharges has not changed,’ Gardner writes. ‘In moving ahead with this pilot we are balancing the desires of the community, reasonable targets for industry and adjusting the priority as supported by science.’

Area E Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin noted her support for the direction MOE is taking, but Ted Bacigalupo, Area C South Shuswap director, had little praise. ‘I don’t like open- ended grace periods,’ he said of MOE’s failure to set a firm date for a total greywater discharge compliance. ‘We have spent millions of dollars on OCPs (official community plans) and liquid waste management plans.’

In response to complaints there are insufficient facilities where boaters can discharge greywater safely, Bacigalupo said he had a list of several sites and complained local government should not have to pay for infrastructure that will benefit the houseboat industry.

Sicamous Mayor Malcolm McLeod disagreed there are adequate disposal sites and suggested the regional district should be part of the solution. ‘Why could we not have a facility at the (Cinnemousin) Narrows and charge users?’ he asked. ‘We’re the houseboat capital of the world and I think we should clean it up and be proactive.’

Directors agreed a thank you letter be sent to the Ministry of Environment for its prompt response on the management of greywater from pleasure craft on Shuswap Lake and to advise that the board supports the ministry’s plan for a 2010 public education campaign.


For more information, see:
Greywater Study by Ministry of Environment
MOE Greywater Fact Sheet
The Impact of Greywater, by Ian Sudbury